Nietzsche constantly praised Goethe as being a truly remarkable human. But one passage from Genealogy of Morals does raise a question for me, after he spends much time setting up and criticizing the ascetic priest. Essay 3, Aphorism 20, last sentences:

Goethe has maintained that there are only thirty-six tragic situations: we would infer from that, did we not know otherwise, that Goethe was no ascetic priest. He—knows more.

I can understand the overall meaning of what he's getting at here, but why does this ability to enumerate tragic situations put Goethe in sharp contrast with the ascetic priest? Is it because to the ascetic priest is fearful of putting a limit on human knowledge, of knowing that human experience can be enumerated, or something like that?

2 Answers 2


At the end of #1o of the third essay Nietzsche introduces the figure of the ascetic priest to which he adds details on a dozen of occasion through the following paragraphs. In #15 he comments that "now we have and hold with both our hands the essence of the ascetic priest". Reading these few pages allows to see that it is essentially a negative view of the christian worldview emphasized through the use of the adjective "ascetic".

So, it is understood the important word in the quote is "only": for Goethe there are only 36 tragic situations, for the ideology of ascetic priests earthly life is tragic through and through and every part of it is some tragedy.

Nietzsche comments that just this evaluation - only 36 and not everything - is enough to infer that Goethe was no ascetic priest. With this in mind one should read the preceding lines, a description where excess is demonstrated and "all" is used repeatedly.

The punch line at the end contains a dash: "He - knows more". Goethe, as an artist, is certainly from a much higher class of manipulative ideologues.


I think what he's refering to is this :

"everywhere mute pain, extreme fear, the agony of a tortured heart, the spasms of an unknown happiness, the shriek for "redemption." In point of fact, thanks to this system of procedure, the old depression, dullness, and fatigue were absolutely conquered, life itself became very interesting again, awake, eternally awake, sleepless, glowing, burnt away, exhausted and yet not tired—such was the figure cut by man, "the sinner," who was initiated into these mysteries. This grand old wizard of an ascetic priest fighting with depression—he had clearly triumphed" link

Goethe's distinction comes from his "sinning nature", he was able to live through life thoroughly - so much so that he'd become able to enumerate all tragic situations. The ascetic priest on the other hand flied pain by surrendering to it, in a sense, he'd have to "casualize" tragedy, all life became pain and suddenly the natural constrast between what could be tragic or not has become blurred.

Goethe knows more because he kept the innocence of what makes a life tragic and/or joyful. Such innocence is lost for the ascetic priest.

Note: some of my use of the word tragic has a connotation of "melancholic", that's alright, Nietzsche has however a more profound understanding of the word.

  • Both really good answers but I can only choose one...
    – LSM07
    Commented Jun 4, 2019 at 14:34
  • 1
    Oh that's alright ! Would be glad to have your comment on the topic once you've gained a wider understanding, don't forget to maybe come back and put an answer to enrich the whole thread :D !
    – Gloserio
    Commented Jun 4, 2019 at 15:13

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